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5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Value Proposition Canvas

Benson Garner

The Value Proposition Canvas helps you design products and services that customers really want because it gets you to focus on what matters most to them. You won’t find success with the tool though if you don’t learn how to use it properly. This post highlights five of the most common and most critical mistakes we’ve seen people make when using the Value Proposition Canvas and provides best practices for what you should do instead.


It's been more than three years since Strategyzer first made a prototype version of the Value Proposition Canvas available. The tool was still in its early conceptual phases and has been tested, iterated, refined, and improved since then. More importantly we've identified some common mistakes and best practices for working with the tool along the way.

Those improvements and learnings are the result of numerous hours of direct application of the tool in the field, working on real projects with companies. Without getting into the specifics of the projects, the learnings come from work performed by Alex, the Strategyzer team, various practitioners and consultants we collaborate with, and from some of my own work with clients.

Five Mistakes to Avoid

1.  Not looking at the Value Proposition Canvas as two separate building blocks

Many people struggle to see the difference between jobs, pains, and gains as well as between pains and pain relievers or gains and gain creators. This is often the result of a lack of understanding of the customer and over generalizing the benefits of a value proposition.

Its important to view the Value Proposition Canvas as two distinct elements or building blocks. On the right hand side of the canvas (the circle) is the 'Customer Profile'. This circle contains only things that can be observed about a customer segment. All of these things are outside of your direct control. On the left hand side of the canvas (the square) is the 'Value Map'. This square contains the things that you will design into your value proposition to address the jobs, pains, and gains of the target customer segment. These are the things that are within your realm of control.

2.  Mixing several customer segments into one canvas

We often experience companies grouping the jobs, pains, and gains of multiple different customer segments into one Customer Profile in the canvas (e.g. payers and users). This is wrong since each distinct customer segment has different jobs, pains, and gains. Mixing multiple customer segments makes it very difficult to know which segment's jobs, pains, and gains are being observed. It's even more difficult to identify and focus on the highest priority jobs, pains, and gains and to be able to design a compelling value proposition to address them. It’s an easy mistake to make and also very easy to correct with multiple options for improving.

Rather than mixing profiles simply work through the Customer Profile one customer segment at a time. Once you've completed each Customer Profile you can then begin designing specific value propositions for each customer segment. When we’re in a working session with a company we’ve found it’s easiest to just hang multiple Value Proposition Canvases on a wall and separate each customer segment into its own canvas. You can also build multiple different Value Proposition Canvases digitally if you’d like using Strategyzer’s web app.

3.  Creating your Customer Profile through the lens of your value proposition

Something that I see time and time again working with clients in both very large companies and in startups is that it’s very difficult for people to remove themselves from their idea or their product, service, or technology. As soon as they begin filling in the Customer Profile they immediately start listing only the jobs, pains, and gains that they see their value proposition resolving. They fail to identify what their customer segments really need and what’s really motivating them to behave in certain ways.

To fix this you should step into your customers shoes. Proceed like an anthropologist and forget for a moment what it is that you are offering (or are hoping to offer) to customers. Try to think beyond the specific jobs, pains, and gains that you hope to address with your value proposition. Look for the deeper motivations that customers have. We’ve found the 'Five Whys' approach particularly helpful in identifying what’s really driving customers to perform certain jobs, avoid certain pains, and to seek certain gains.

4.  Only focusing on functional jobs

One of the exercises that we have people perform after completing their initial Customer Profile is to have them label their customer’s jobs as being functional, social, or emotional in nature. We find more often than not that the majority of the jobs that have been identified are almost all functional jobs. This happens because functional jobs are what’s most visibly apparent.

It’s important to push yourself beyond the obvious functional jobs to understand the social and emotional jobs that are driving customers. For example customers might be trying to impress their boss or co-workers, their friends, or maybe a family member (e.g. driving a specific car or wearing certain clothing). Or perhaps they will feel better about themselves after performing a specific job (e.g. having a healthy diet or spending time with someone else). The pains associated with social or emotional jobs are often more deeply felt by customers and the gains are usually more ferociously sought after.

5.  Trying to address every customer pain and gain

It’s pretty common to see people trying to link every job, pain, and gain from the Customer Profile to the products and services, pain relievers, and gain creators on the Value Proposition Map. It’s unrealistic to believe that you can satisfy all of these things for your customers. Further, trying to do so is time wasted in a fruitless, unfocused effort to do everything and as result you end not doing any one of those things very well. Thus you still leave your customer unsatisfied.

Instead it’s important to recognize that the best value propositions are focused primarily on resolving only those jobs, pains, and gains that are highest priority to customers. You must make deliberate tradeoffs as to which jobs, pains, and gains you will address and which you will forgo. Then seek to perform very well on those specific elements that you choose to address.

By avoiding these most critical mistakes you will be better equipped to design value propositions that customers will be delighted to buy. You can find more common mistakes and best practices for using the Value Proposition Canvas in our new book Value Proposition Design

What challenges have you had or mistakes have you made when working with the VPC? What has helped you overcome them?

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